MLB, USA Baseball promote youth game that picks up pace

NEW YORK (AP) MLB and USA Baseball are promoting a modified version of youth baseball with fewer innings, batters and pitches to pick up the pace.

Hit and Run Baseball is part of the MLB’s Play Ball initiative announced Tuesday. Hall of Famer and special adviser Cal Ripken is leading the cause.

MLB says Hit and Run Baseball is ”designed to encourage youth organizations to utilize alternative formats” for games, practices and tournaments. The recommended rules include:

– Six-inning games.

– Four batters per inning.

– Three swings per batter, with no balls or strikes called on taken pitches. If no contact is made in three swings, a tee is used or a coach can side toss to the batter.

– Six players rotating positions each inning, with no outfielders. The center fielder roams behind the infield.

– No catchers. Coaches catch pitches.

Hit and Run encourages coaches to add scoring bonuses for properly executed defensive plays and reward teams with an extra batter when players hustle out to the field in 20 seconds. There’s no stealing and runners are placed on base in the third inning.

MLB said pilot programs for ”Hit and Run Baseball” indicate players get more turns at bat and more balls are put in play.

”Hit and Run Baseball was created as a teaching tool designed to remind baseball participants that playing our game does not require a one-size-fits-all approach,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. ”There are many different ways to structure practice, games and tournaments so that players get the most out of their experiences, particularly through crisp pace of play while also limiting pitch count burdens on pitchers.”

Baseball is trying to address slow play and lack of action at the highest levels of the game, along with how those issues impact youth baseball and drawing young fans.

The average nine-inning game stretched to a record 3 hours, 5 minutes last season, up from 2:46 in 2005. This season MLB imposed stricter limits on mound visits by players in an effort to speed games, but decided against 20-second pitch clocks for 2018. The players’ union has pushed back against changes aimed at pace of play.